Over The Lip

Most of us can remember our first ride in a dune buggy. For this author, it was filled with thrills and excitement that have lasted a lifetime

My First Ride In A Dune Buggy

My First Ride In A Dune Buggy
By Chuck Adamson | July 6, 2013

My very first dune buggy ride was in an open wheel, tube-chassis buggy, and it happened many, many years ago. What happened didn’t take place in the dunes or desert, it was in the cities of Torrance and Palos Verdes, in southern California.
Sure a lot of us have test driven non-street legal vehicles on city streets. But, this test drive, “My first in a dune buggy,” was both amazing and lucky. Let me start from the beginning. I had been working on VWs for a few years when a friend of mine, Loren, started building his first buggy. It was a Chenowth 2-seater, 1835cc VW engine with a Zenith 2-barrel carb and Tri-Mil exhaust that had a straight stinger. The chassis was painted lime green and it had tall Western Wheel Sandblasters on the rear with smaller ones on up front.
Loren was just about done building it when he invited me over to take a look, and help him with the finishing touches. This buggy was almost completed when I arrived, only missing the floors under the seats. Well, it did have a foot rest and a bar for the passenger and a small floor under the the pedals for the driver. Heck, we didn’t need a completed floor to go on a short test drive, we just wanted to see if it ran okay.

Loren was just about done building it when he invited me over to take a look, and help him with the finishing touches. This buggy was almost completed when I arrived, only missing the floors under the seats. Well, it did have a foot rest and a bar for the passenger and a small floor under the the pedals for the driver. Heck, we didn’t need a completed floor to go on a short test drive, we just wanted to see if it ran okay.
It was a fairly large field with knee-high grass, partially lit by the street lights and the church parking lot next door. Still, it was pretty dark so we clicked on the KC Daylighters and started to romp and stomp all over the field. We had a great view of the coastline below, about 1/2 mile away as he crow flies.  Then Loren looked at me with an evil grin and said, “What do you think about goin’ down to the beach?” Sounded great to me!
Well, the beach was abandoned, dark and calling us. It was only a short distance from the field, and it was dark outside. One small problem is that we had to drive down some fire roads which ended about 100 yards from the back of the Palos Verdes Police Department. If we made it to that point, we needed to negotiate about 1/2 mile of twisty roads before we crossed the city line and entered Torrance. Lastly, we had to go about 3/4-mile down neighborhood streets until we came to the Torrance Beach Parking Lot, and the ramp leading down to the sand.

Loren and I both knew we could get into a lot of trouble, but the temptation of the sandy beach was too great to ignore. After careful consideration (about 10 seconds) we started down the fire road and entered the street near Malaga Plaza. We hauled ass around the twisty part of P.V. Blvd., thinking we might just get out of Palos Verdes without getting noticed. We were about 200 yards from Torrance City limits when we passed a P.V. cop giving someone a ticket, on the other side of the street.
It had only been a few minutes since we left the relative safety of that field and we were now trying to ditch a cop. We were plenty scared and Loren stood on it all the way down the Torrance Beach Parking Lot. The lot had been closed for hours by this time, so we climbed the curb, over the ice plant and into the lot. Down the lifeguard ramp, past closed lifeguard tower and onto the beach we went. Loren and I screamed and howled as we realized we had just made it down onto the sand at Torrance Beach. We still had a big problem; how to get home without being caught by the authorities.

Not hesitating for a moment, Loren headed south toward “Rat Beach.” If we were lucky, the road up from the beach near the old P.V. Swim club wasn’t closed or locked. It was open! While I was freaking out that we were both going to jail, luck was on our side. I was relieved to see the service road to the cliffs above was open and ready for us to make our escape from the beach, and maybe make it home in one piece.
Well, that wasn’t good enough for my friend Loren. Seeing as we had an exit, why not take this opportunity to do what we came to do, drive on the beach. Grabbing the turning brake, we spun around for a blast northward toward Redondo Beach which was about 2.5 miles away. We were flying off the scallop shaped dunes, made by the surf at high tide, when we almost hit a couple who were wrapped in a blanket near the water’s edge. They hardly seemed to notice us. We continued up the beach to about Avenue G where the street lights from the Esplanade above clearly lit up the whole beach. Can you imagine what the people up there thought when they saw the off-road lights and heard that open exhaust as we roared past them into the darkness of “Rat Beach?”
Wow! What an experience — my first dune buggy ride. And we weren’t even home yet. I was hooked for life. We made it up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the beach and took a right up the hill toward Loren’s home. Rounding the bend above Malaga Cove, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We passed the same P.V. cop giving a ticket to another motorist. We were committed and Loren kept it full throttle as we flew by that cop. Our tires were howling and I’m sure we startled that cop as we passed by. All I knew is that we better keep going if we were going to get home without being caught. Left turn, right turn and another left turn, and then I lost track of where we were.
Next thing I know we are headed down that same street near the open field where we started this test drive. It seemed like we were going to make it home after all. We rounded the last left turn into Loren’s neighborhood, just a couple of streets from his house, when I nearly lost my lunch. There was another P.V. cop. I couldn’t believe it. He was parked,on the wrong side and facing us, waiting for someone to blow through the stop sign that we just flew through. We were so close that we almost sideswiped him. This cop definitely saw us! He fired up his black & white and started after us. One thing in our favor is that he was pointed the wrong way on a narrow street and it was hard for him to make a U-turn.
We only had two blocks downhill to go and then a quick right to the second house. I was fumbling with my belts as we slid into the driveway. Loren stood on the brakes and I was launched face-first onto the front of the closed garage door. I pulled hard on that heavy wood double car door and it came right up. Loren drove that lime green monster into the garage and I quickly shut the door.

There we were, finally back inside of Loren’s garage. It was pitch black in there and neither of us said a thing. Our hearts were pounding and both of us were breathing hard, as if we had just run a marathon. We listened closely for any signs that we may had been caught or not. Just then, we heard the unmistakable sound of a V-8 engine at full throttle as the cop accelerated down the street, past Loren’s home.
We could barely contain ourselves as we struggled to keep quiet and not laugh as the cop drove up and down our street and the surrounding area. The kids from the neighborhood almost gave us away as they came up to the door to tell us what was happening. We pleaded for them to leave. We stayed in that garage for a long time before venturing out into the night, not knowing if the police were out there waiting. Amazingly, they were nowhere to be seen and we didn’t get caught. Both Loren and I were exhausted and thanked our lucky stars we weren’t in jail.
All of this happened over 30 years ago. But that ride influenced the rest of my life. I have an off-road enthusiast ever since, building desert and short course race cars, as well as racing at Ascot Park, Saddleback Park, Glen Helen Raceway, and competing in the Mickey Thompson Championship Grand Prix series.
The off-road vehicles I now own are taken to the desert legally, and I enjoy all of the amazing rides i take. But, few compare to the thrills of my first ride in a dune buggy.

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